Today, I had the pleasure of an opportunity to share a preview card from the upcoming Battlebond set (courtesy of Wizards of the Coast’s generosity).
— Stybs, A One-Headed Two-Headed Giant (@the_stybs) May 23, 2018
Skyshroud Claim is an old Magic card. Printed as part of Nemesis in 2000, our 18 year gap in booster appearances is due to a very simple reason: Ramp spells are hard to tune in Standard. (Also “Skyshroud” is a specific location in Magic lore we haven’t gone back to, but that’s just semantics.) While the Standard heyday of Masques Block is far too fuzzy for me to pretend to know, seeing the commanding price a foil version holds due to Commander today is enough to show the respect dropping untapped lands into play commands. It wasn’t until Dominaria‘s Grow from the Ashes that we found a truly similar card.
There’s a world of difference between these two cards of course. Skyshroud Claim can only get more Forests, but Grow from the Ashes opens up access to up to two more colors. More options and choice are great, right?
The Nonsense Problem
Drafting cubes is an incredible experience. You can see all sorts of interesting intersections and interactions across Magic‘s history. Tuning and creating a unique draft experience is, sometimes, an after thought for cube designers. One of the most common “themes” encountered are that many decks end up playing the best cards they’ve drafted across multiple colors. Three-or-more color decks can be normal, and expected, when you include all of the best mana fixing in the game. Signets, dual lands, and powerful green mana fixing all work on concert to create “nonsense decks” filled with powerful stuff.
There isn’t anything wrong with those kinds of decks. It’s fun to play lots of random, powerful cards. I am a Commander player, after all! But when it becomes the defacto thing to do in every cube the novelty wears off. I strongly feel good cubes have defined archetypes and choose a selection of cards to include that appropriately supports that. I cut the signets and bounce lands from original Ravnica block when I realized that they were much more powerful than anything green could do at common. Given a choice between a Signet and Rampant Growth, the obvious colorless fixing was obvious.
Some cubes “solve” this problem by giving green something green is best at: Cheating really big, dumb creatures into play. Sure, you can fix your mana with signets and a dual land or two but I’m going to Genesis Wave for 9 over here. For powered cubes that offer incredible mana sources and cards like Natural Order, it’s a fine way to have your cake and eat it too. At common, where power level between cards is smaller and the overall peak power is lower that’s not an option. So what does cutting signets for a Pauper cube have to do with Skyshroud Claim?
A No-Nonsense Solution
For a long time I didn’t rethink ramp cards in the cube. Cards like Selfie Preservation and Beneath the Sands would float in over Cultivate and Kodama’s Reach, gently nudging further from making three-color decks easy but I never committed to a serious change up.
The awesome discussion in the Pauper cube Discord pushed me to revisit what was going on in green ramp spells and rethink how to support green’s identity as “the ramp color.” Harrow, an instant that searches up any two basic lands, was pointed out as an egregious card for the the world where multicolor nonsense wasn’t supported. “Why not Nissa’s Pilgrimage?” someone smart asked.
After thinking about it, that kind of swap made total sense. (And exemplifies why I always listen to the feedback you provide!) While this is just one of several changes I’ve already mapped out for the next update, moving to officially dissuade you from doing more than two colors without nonbasic lands was a long time coming. And if your flavor of the cube wants to lean into the “Big Green” dream more, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better ramp spell at four mana than Skyshroud Claim.
See you next week with the Battlebond update!